Don’t feed them bears |

Don’t feed them bears

Lisa Marsh

Like the sign in Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park, people are being told, “Do not feed the bears.” Yet many people do not practice this common-sense approach.

“We’re trying to educate the bear instead of trying to educate the public,” said Carl Lackey, wildlife biologist for the Nevada Division of Wildlife. “And it’s a lot easier to do … because bears have common sense.”

Lackey was one of eight guest speakers featured at the fourth annual Lake Tahoe Basin Biologist Forum on Monday at Lake Tahoe Community College. His presentation, “Bears in the Tahoe Basin,” offered information about the biology and management of black bears, the prevalent species hereabouts.

“Nuisance bear” calls have increased steadily since the late 1980s drought years. In 1998 60 complaints have already been received, and the numbers are expected to increase as hibernating females and cubs emerge during the next few weeks.

“The perceptions that people have is the biggest problem,” Lackey said while flashing a drawing of a “bear attack” on the display screen.

Most bears, he said, prefer a natural habitat away from people. But they learned garbage cans are a food source. Some bear mothers have even been observed showing their cubs how to forage in garbage cans.

Because the process of trapping, tranquilizing and recording information is so traumatic to the bear, biologists are doing some on the spot education with pepper spray, explosive rounds and rubber slugs. So far, there have been no reports of bears returning after being “educated.”

Lackey said a few bears are responsible for most complaints. The education effort works when only one or two juvenile bears are getting into trouble, as opposed to a large group of invaders.

“Males around the age of 2 to 3 years will get into the most trouble,” he added.

Lackey offered a black bear profile. Typically, black bears range in size from 100 to 150 pounds for females to 200 to 250 for a male. Their coloring ranges from true black to cinnamon, and they are found throughout the Sierra Nevada and Carson area. Their normal lifespan is seven to 10 years, although some bears have been known to live up to 30 years. They are very curious by nature, and eat a variety of things, from grass to grubs to potato chips.

The Tahoe Basin, Lackey said, will continue to have conflict between bears and people. But that conflict is not without lighter moments.

He told of a call at a person’s house where the bear was inside, sitting on its haunches in the pantry. He helped himself to a plate of oatmeal cookies, licking it clean and was proceeding to pop open bags of potato chips and eat them off the floor. When he saw the homeowner, he got up and left. Traps were set, but he has not returned. Perhaps it was the oatmeal cookies.

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